Category Archives: Europe

Let it all fall down

Governments around the world are trying out different formulae to tackle the financial crisis. They claim they are trying to reactivate the financial sector, to encourage banks to offer loans to small businesses and people, and to other banks. Other cases of government intervention are focused on preventing banks from going bankrupt.

This is all wrong. If the financial sector is in a financial crisis, let the financial sector sweat out its own illness. Any part of it that cannot survive the crisis should simply be left to die, because its demise means that it has no value. The crisis must be allowed to work as it should, promoting consolidation, discarding some old players and creating opportunities for new players to enter.

Government intervention is absolutely wrong. It is nothing but a quick fix, with lasting negative side effects, while prolonging the cost of the crisis, imposing it on generations to come. Furthermore, why should banks and other financial entities be allowed to earn loads of money for themselves (their shareholders) when the economy is fine, but they have to be helped by the government when things are not so nice anymore? Every individual and small business benefits from their work in times of prosperity, and they have to adjust to difficult times. The financial sector should be no different.

Is the problem really lack of trust among lenders? Is a bunch of public money going to help them regain trust? Not a chance. They should regain trust the old fashioned way: by going into business again (i.e., start lending) to then ascertain that customers begin repaying their loans. Why would banks feel compelled to lend again? Simply because it’s their business. The business of banks is based on risk. They take a risk lending money, and charge for that service. It’s a matter of waiting to see who can hold out longer; banks or their customers. My guess is that banks, without the gift from governments, would have needed to attract customers again sooner than those customers would have needed the loans.

The financial sector should be left to its own devices to try to recover, whatever that may entail. Having governments intervene is anti-natural; it is an external factor inserted into the normal life cycle of any company that ought to survive on its own merit. Of course, earlier government intervention had its share of blame in driving the economy and the financial sector down (read: unrealistically low interest rates in the U.S. for a long time, the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act), but this is no excuse to pour millions of public money to that financial sector, or to nationalise banks left and right, as several EU countries are doing.

In summary, the situation is outrageous: rather than reducing public spending, governments have, once again, disposed of our money to use as they see fit, without any clear indication that the amounts of money they are dumping on the financial sector is going to make any difference one way or the other.


Let us establish the death penalty

Late last month (July 2008), it became known that the U.S. would execute the death sentence of soldier Ronald Gray after his conviction for rape and murder.

The decision is correct and must be applauded. The death penalty should be applied more frequently in similar cases. The execution of such criminals may not necessarily heal their victims, families or society, but execution is the just response from society to individuals who have completely violated the rules of society, showing utter contempt for those people who became their victims. There is no possible reintegration. It is necessary for society to have mechanisms to get rid of such cancers. Such elements are not worthy of cure; they are rather malignant tumors to be removed completely from society.

Apart from the possible deterrent effect of any penalty, the main objective to introduce the death penalty should be to rid society of those people who at first had chosen to disregard and ignore the rights, dignity and lives of others, either for their own benefit or for pleasure. Such an attitude demonstrates an ability and willingness to do damage that does not deserve contemplations of forgiveness or second chances. The only way to protect society from these individuals is eliminating them from society itself.

Unfortunately the European Union still maintains its opposition to the death penalty. It is necessary for European countries to introduce the death penalty in their criminal codes. Europe suffers, like any society, both internal and external cancers that must be fought. Those responsible for crimes of rape, paedophilia, human trafficking or terrorism (among others) deserve that the response and reaction from society be the death penalty, in order to simply eliminate those people from our societies. It is society’s just protection against the threat posed by keeping those who despise the rest of the people within society.

The measures usually imposed by judges on paedophiles or terrorists are insufficient, like the restraining order: a stupid measure and an impossible one to implement in practice. Compliance with such an order requires the victim or the offender (or both) to known about the other’s movements, to ensure such compliance. This situation requires unfair constant pressure on the victim. Because such crimes deserve the elimination of offenders, the death penalty would offer at least the comfort of knowing that the threat no longer exists.

There are countless cases that need application of the death penalty, such as the three U.S. soldiers implicated in the rape of a girl in Japan in 1996 (see news here).

Likewise, the penalty must be applied to all arsonists producing intentional forest fires ravaging Spain every summer, destroying nature and mountains. The vast majority of fires are intentional. On many occasions those responsible for the fire are apprehended. Let us do the right thing, executing them. The damage they have caused to nature and to entire villages makes it necessary to eliminate those who caused the damage.

Instead of sentences of brief walks through jail, like the 3 years’ imprisonment that Thailand imposed on pederast Christopher Neil this week, it is necessary to introduce the death penalty and execute that individual. Similarly, capital punishment is urgently needed in other notorious cases such as those seen by Europe in Belgium or those of a few priests in the U.S. It is also necessary to introduce the death penalty for the pederast and murderer Santiago del Valle Spain or in the case of a famous Spanish dancer that also killed one person. The pampered treatment that Spain offeres murderers (whether or not part of ETA) is scandalous. That is not justice. The death penalty is also necessary for these criminals.

Needless to say, the cases reviewed here are just a few examples of all cases in which death penalty is needed.

Associations like Amnesty International denounces countries like the U.S. or China for continuing to use the death penalty. They are wrong. These countries do well in maintaining and implementing the death penalty. It is Europe and many other countries who need to react (quickly) to implement the death penalty as well.

Oil prices, carriers and the Spanish government

The recent increase in oil prices affects all transport. Air, ground and sea transportation, passenger and cargo alike, have seen their costs rising in the last few months.

Analysts have provided several theories on the causes behind the oil price hike. Some put the blame on the credit crisis in the USA, others blame oil producers, others point at the US Federal Reserve, and others remind us of the significant increase in energy demand. I am not going to analyze the reasons here.

This week Spain saw a strike by some truck drivers (apparently about 20% of them), demanding Government intervention to help their activity, after fuel price increases are rendering their business a loss-making operation. Their strike blocked major communication roads around the main cities in Spain, causing long traffic jams, and making it impossible for loads of other people to carry on with their own jobs.

These few truck drivers seem to think they are the only ones affected by oil prices. Many other people actually need gas fuel as well to drive to work, and are equally paying for gas at the same price. Costs are increasing for everyone.

Private businesses, such as the truck drivers’ own job, must not receive help from the Government. When faced with adversity, these striker drivers resort to demanding help from the Government while showing complete disregard to other workers and people through their road-blocking actions, and through their boycotting other truck drivers who chose not to adhere to the protest. The striker’s lazy and cowardly attitude towards their own problems is unacceptable. Clearly the transportation business was profitable when they decided to enter the business. Now that conditions have changed for the worse, they expect external help instead of adapting themselves to the new circumstances.

I know ex-truck drivers who left the business because they could not make a living with it, and moved to another type of job. People in other sectors, including house service, agriculture, engineering, and financial services, to name a few, have the personal drive to move forward through trouble, to adapt and adjust by changing jobs if needed. The few who are unwilling to adjust are usually (also on this occasion) the noisiest, but this is no reason to listen to them.

The natural solution to the carriers’ problems is simply to increase their transportation fees as a result of their increased cost. If their fees are fixed by collective agreements, then they must renegotiate if they wish, but Government intervention is not be to asked for, and public funds must not be used to help this or any other private sector.

If prices of goods must increase as a consequence of higher transportation costs, so be it. It’s only natural. To intervene on pricing, on the other hand, would be wrong. The Government must attack the problem at its root: supply and demand of energy. If they cannot affect demand, then they must act on supply, building new energy-producing plants. Spain’s proud and capricious socialist Government, of course, has no plans for this.

Language, communication and freedom

Language is often considered to be an aspect of culture. I dissent. First and foremost, language is a means of communication, but the diversity of languages certainly makes humans associate a particular language with a particular group of people. Humans feel identified with other human beings who speak the same language, while feeling more distant from those speaking a different tongue.

Culture or not, language is essentially what allows humans to communicate with other humans and it is therefore a catalyst for growth of the human spirit as language permits access to knowledge and to interaction and relation with other people. The use of language should therefore not be limited nor restricted in any way. This apparently elemental assertion has rarely been true throughout the history of mankind. The fact that different peoples speak different languages has been used as a perfect weapon to divide and hurt people as opposed to the enriching potential of multilingualism.

In “The Prince“, Machiavelli describes how the different tongue spoken in another state can be a hurdle to conquer that territory. Time and again we have seen how leaders have imposed the use of a particular language on people, in order to gain control over them and their lands, usually accompanied by oppression of another language that may represent a threat to achieving control of the people. This practice might have been thought to be proper of war time, dictators and other freedom-lacking situations and regimes.

Nothing further from the truth: Spain, despite being a Democratic state, is a prime example of language oppression and curbing of freedoms. I’ve been meaning to write yet another public condemnation of the practices of several regional governments in Spain, which have been implementing policies and practices to put down the use of the Spanish language (despite it being an official language on those regions) while also imposing the use of their local language (despite it being equally official).

Common practices nowadays in Spain include: favoring knowledge of the local language over medical skills to access doctor positions in the public health care system, fines on businesses which do not label their stores and products in the local language, forcing students to speak the local language during school recess, indicating parents and teachers they are not to use Spanish when speaking in front of children in school, teaching Spanish in school as a foreign language, conducting publicity campaigns depicting Spanish-speaking locals as inferior to local-language-speaking locals, among other preposterous praxes.

Many of those policies are targeted on the education system. What best way to indoctrinate on local and regional identity and differentiation from other people (i.e., the rest of Spain) than to stress the differences by imposing the use of the local language while putting down the use of Spanish?

With their obsession on collective regionalism, those local governments are infusing hatred among people, but most importantly, they are depriving people from the ability to communicate and access more and more knowledge, produced in languages other than their regional tongue.

The use of one or another language ought to be purely a matter of choice of the individual. At school age, when children are still uncontaminated by political maneuvers, parents should have a choice as to whether their children ought to be be taught in one or more language, or whether they should be taught in Spanish as well as the local language, or even in foreign languages.

By undermining the capability of people to choose the language they use for communication, and for schooling of their children, these regional governments are dumbing down the population. The general public is subject to the manipulatory wishes of these regional leaders who are depriving and isolating people of opportunities for their future, in the name of localism and glorification of their local identity.

A foreign (non-Spanish) friend of mine in Catalonia (one of the regions in Spain most active in promoting collective localism) finally opted to migrate to another European country, because the school system in Barcelona offered no possibility to study in Spanish. Only Catalan (the local co-official language) was an option. Spanish would be taught to his children as a foreign language, like English or French.

Limiting exposure to other languages is a crime against people, for it limits their capability to acquire knowledge, liberty and self-growth, and to help in the growth of the individual’s community. People and businesses should claim their right to use and think in whichever language they please, free of limitations from governments.

The latest episode in this battle was staged recently by the Balearic region of Spain and the German airline Air Berlin, which operates flights between several German cities and several Spanish cities (among other countries). The Balearic local regional government’s “Language Policy” director sent a letter to Air Berlin, asking them to use Catalan in their communications with their customers in the Balearic islands. Here’s an example of meddling by a public institution (local government) in private affairs of an airline. Who do they think they are to tell an Airline what language they should speak? I support the Airline if they choose to communicate to their customers in whichever language they decide to, Catalan included, but this should be purely their own decision. If they have not chosen to use Catalan so far, they probably have their own reasons, more than likely related to balancing the need to communicate with non German speaking customers and the need to streamline the Airline’s business. It is no business of anyone else to tell them which language to use.

The reaction of Air Berlin’s director, Mr. Joachim Hunold, was perfectly correct. He wrote in the airline’s own magazine a note denouncing the inference from the Balearic government, saying that “Spanish is no longer an official language. The partition of Spain into regional nationalisms is returning Spain to medieval mini-states. I used to think that we lived in a Europe without borders”.

Mr. is absolutely correct. Of course, regional leaders in Spain have tried to accuse Air Berlin of attacking Catalan. The president of Catalonia, Montilla, has even dared to tell the Airline how they should conduct their business, hinting that the Airline should not adopt an ideology. Apparently, for Montilla it is fine that a Government can impose an ideology on people, but individuals cannot comment on it. This is certainly not a surprise, since Montilla and similar local leaders are known for persecuting freedom of speech.

Certainly the airline incident is far less serious than other practices; it was just the latest in a chain of nonsense coming from these regional leaders.

It is outrageous that the Catalonian government fines producers for not using Catalan in their product labels, or when they’ve fined shop owners for using only Spanish on their shop banners. People should be free to label using whichever language they want. Most certainly businesses will choose a language that helps them sell their product. If they want to use Catalan, they will, but this should not be forced upon them.

It is also outrageous that children are manipulated through television advertisements that teach them to put Spanish-speaking people down.

People’s own opportunities for prosperity and liberty are being killed by these leaders obsessed with regional and local identity, and with differentiation from the rest of humans. Language is their best vehicle to control people. Let us not allow them to succeed.

Privacy: awareness better than technology

This week I am at the Bled “Future of the Internet” conference, where the European Commission tries to coordinate efforts among the research projects they fund with the goal of positioning Europe as a leader in the definition and research of the Future Internet (or “Internet of the Future”, or whichever name people want to call it).

There was a good opening speech by Dr. Žiga Turk, Slovenian Minister of Growth, relating future developments in the Internet to past developments in human communication technologies. The message was clear and true, and I think it most importantly highlights that such developments take place with little planning. For this reason, I believe that specific efforts to develop a Future Internet are superfluous and most likely inefficient. The Internet (i.e., its technologies, applications, infrastructures, etc…) will surely evolve, independently of conferences like this one. It has evolved in the past few years and it is sure to continue to do so. Just like everything else that humans do.

In the second part of the the conference, a number of speakers presented different points of view for the Internet of the Future: artists, content, services, applications, privacy. When the floor was open for questions, the discussion was almost exclusively centered on “privacy”, sprinkled with the usual attack on Google citing that data storage in the U.S. is a problem.

Once again, overdone privacy concerns dominated the discussion. This is not right and it not useful discussion. Although the privacy concern is legitimate, the way to address it should be through awareness and education. People need to understand the implications of using technology with regards to information.

The buzzword “Web 2.0” is often defined as the “new” (current, anyways) Internet in which users are no longer mere spectators and passive readers, but they are also producers and providers of information into the Internet. Given this, we must keep in mind that human actions involve responsibility for those actions. Publishing information or using a service are examples of such actions, and must therefore be backed by people being responsible for what they publish or how they use those services. The best way for users to be protected is for them to be aware of what it means to share or publish information on the Internet. Protection technologies (for privacy protection, for instance) at the disposal of users will do no good at all if the user cannot understand the implications of their Internet usage.

Unfortunately, the main messages echoing in the press in (part of) the technology research community (in Europe, at least) focus on providing protection technologies for users, and devising legislation and controls on businesses to limit current business practices based on processing of users’ information.

This approach is wrong, and must be replaced by education and awareness programs for people to be aware of implications of Internet usage. In this way, users could avoid unfounded fear and avoid unnecessary risks.

Nuclear energy's unsuspected ally

The bandwagon of man-made climate change has all sorts of passengers, and seems to be the ideal pretext for just about anything nowadays.

The UK Government announced this week that the UK will begin building nuclear power plants again.

Nuclear energy has bad press for several reasons, including health concerns for nearby residents, difficult disposal of nuclear waste, and the danger of malfunction in the plant. There’s widespread opposition throughout Europe to building new nuclear power stations. Even UK’s announcement this week has been criticized by some groups.

However, what is unusual in the arguments to defend the construction of new nuclear power plants? The fight against climate change is publicized as the first reason that citizens should take into account to back nuclear energy. (references: UK government and the Foreword in White Paper on nuclear power)

The backing of nuclear energy sources with the argumentation that it helps curb climate change could be due to one of the following:

  1. either the UK government truly believes that man is causing climate change,
  2. or because “man-made climate change” (true or not) is in the minds of the population, it is very easy to exploit this fear to easily sell them any “solution” to climate change.

If option (1) is the case, humans are deceiving themselves in thinking that they have the capacity to influence Earth’s climate, and that they will also have an influence to “restore” climate.

Thankfully, I believe the real situation is (2): Humans are no fools, but rather manipulative beings who know that the illusion of fighting “climate change” is effective marketing to sell otherwise unpopular strategies, like the use of nuclear energy. That’s not to say, however, that it’s OK for Governments to deceive people with lies like man-made climate change.

The UK Government’s decision to promote the construction of new nuclear power stations is the correct one (it’s an affordable, dependable and efficient source of energy). No less important is the strategic relevance to make a country more self-sufficient in energy production, reducing dependency on external sources. I can only wish Spain would promote nuclear energy as well, but without resorting to the false and silly excuse of saving humans from climate change.

(Other related Megaspora entries: Climate Change, Inc., Eco-hype)

Good and bad smoking bans

With the start of 2008, France has joined Italy and Ireland in a complete ban to smoking in restaurants and bars. Thankfully they have not followed the smoking regulation model started in Spain, which gives small bar/restaurant owners the choice of becoming a smoking or a non-smoking space.

Smoking bans are always perceived differently from two different points of view: the health point of view and the ‘comfort’ (or annoyance) point of view.

Taking health into account, and according to the law itself, the goal of smoking bans is to reduce tobacco consumption to reduce health risks, and to reduce exposure of workers to tobacco smoke. (It can be argued whether smoking is really a health risk or not, although I believe it is). The smoking ban in workplaces (introduced in Spain only in January 2006) is aimed at protecting workers from tobacco smoke of their smoker co-workers. This measure was long overdue in Spain and we can finally enjoy smoke-free office workspaces. However, bar and restaurant workers are not as lucky: the Spanish law does not protect them, as it makes each business decide: smoke-free or not. This ambiguous law looks after some workers while ignoring others.

From the point of view of ‘comfort’, a large part of society would be happier with smoke-free environments simply because the absence of smoke means absence of bad smell in the air and in one’s clothes. Obviously, people are free to stay away from tobacco-friendly bars and restaurants, but the Spanish law has not helped to create smoke-free spaces.

Because in Spain going smoke-free is optional for small bars and restaurants, some of them choose to stay smoke-friendly, to ensure they won’t loose smoking customers to the bar next door, which may have chosen to stay smoke-friendly. It is a matter of competition. It is natural that an optional measure like this one drives the vast majority of bars and restaurants to choose the option which does not damage their business. Should the law impose a smoking ban on all bars and restaurants, the regulation would be equal for all businesses, enabling fair competition, since none can allow smoking in their premises. Obviously, if smoking is allowed everywhere, competition would be equally fair, but this would mean failure for the Spanish tobacco law, which intends to curb tobacco consumption in workplaces, not keep it up.

However, what about the people who cannot go without their cigarette when having their coffee? Or can they?

The “cafe culture” in France, claimed to be under attack by the new smoking ban, is not unique to France. It is equally popular in Spain, Italy or Ireland. The two latter have banned smoking, causing no impact on the “cafe culture”. I am certain that France will experience equal adaptation to the smoking ban, and people will continue to have their coffee, but without the smoke.

Congratulations to the French. Spain should follow suit, and implement a proper smoking ban on all restaurants and bars. The current tobacco laws in Spain smell of half-baked compromise to implement the health protection measures in bars, while avoiding aggravating smokers. Experience in Italy, Ireland and also in the U.S. shows that the ban on smoking causes no aggravation, and is even welcome by many smokers.